Early Impressions: INJUSTICE 2
In this Crossfader series, our video games staff takes a look at early versions of upcoming releases so that you can know which hype trains to board.
“What if we took the brutality of Mortal Kombat, but used DC Characters?”
This was a question that led to the creation of MORTAL KOMBAT VS. DC UNIVERSE, which was not a great game. It’s also what lead to the creation of BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, which saw the Caped Crusader commit murder on the big screen. Thankfully, there was a peak between these two valleys, in the form of NetherRealm Studios’ reiteration of the concept with 2013’s INJUSTICE: GOD AMONG US. Focusing entirely on the DC side of things this time around, INJUSTICE took the combo system and control scheme of NetherRealm’s popular fighting franchise, and gave players the ability to pummel Superman’s face with Batman’s trademark batarangs, or even pit The Flash against Solomon Grundy. Better yet, the game’s fighting mechanics were well executed, and NetherRealm had themselves a bonafide great fighting game on their hands (excluding that unfortunate first attempt…).
With the upcoming release of INJUSTICE 2, many fans, myself included, are eager to see what NetherRealm has learned from the first game, as well as their last release with MORTAL KOMBAT X, and how they have used these lessons to improve the comic book fighter. After putting extensive time in the game’s recent beta, INJUSTICE 2 looks and plays like a stellar fighter, with a few new tricks up its sleeves.
First off, INJUSTICE 2 is an evolution of the first game, and not a reinvention. If you are someone who dislikes Mortal Kombat-style games, or fighting games in general, INJUSTICE 2 is not going to change your opinion on the genre. This is a raw 2D fighter at its heart, despite the DC fan service, and it updates much of the body and style of the first game for the new generation of consoles.
Much of the gameplay remains the same as before: characters have access to normals, punches and kicks, as well as a few unique special moves. Along with this, players can block, throw, jump, and a well-timed strong attack will bounce opponents off walls of the stage for flashy combos. The key gimmick in INJUSTICE is each character’s signature trait, an ability which ties directly into their superpowers. The most effective INJUSTICE players are those who blend the game’s premade normal combo strings with special attacks to chunk down their opponents’ health.
This guy creates tornadoes of blood. Do you think he’s a hero or a villain?
Mastering a character and their moveset is often a laborious process, and unfortunately the beta didn’t offer any sort of practice mode, which left me with learning characters’ moves on the fly. Whenever I got a moment to breathe, I had to jump into the pause menu mid-fight to peruse my character’s move set, which looks like a whole mess of complicated inputs.
Thankfully, as I mentioned before, the bulk of INJUSTICE 2’s combat is carried over from the previous game, which means veterans of the series, or Mortal Kombat, will feel right at home. In fact, some of them might feel a bit too familiar. Returning heroes from INJUSTICE are left relatively unchanged. Batman and Superman play almost identical to their counterparts from the first game, with only a few tweaks made to their more powerful combos. NetherRealm wants to offer some familiarity for veterans of the series.
Beyond the titular stars of Zach Snyder’s magnum opus, the beta offered players the chance to play as more obscure DC alum like Red Lantern Atrocitus, Supergirl, Blue Beetle, and Black Canary. If Batman and Superman left me with doubts about character evolution, these newcomers had me at the edge of my seat. Each offers a distinctly unique style and gameplay hook that highlights their strengths and weaknesses. Atrocitus is slow and lumbering, with powerful tornadoes of blood. Supergirl carries much of the same powers as her cousin Superman, but her combos are tricky, playing with her opponent’s defenses.
Hey Tweety Bird, can you stop screaming please?
For the bulk of the original roster, most of them could be lumped into classic fighting game archetypes: grappler, projectile, zoner, control, strength, etc. With Beetle and Canary, however, INJUSTICE 2 seems to be branching out and experimenting with unique playstyles. With his two distinct forms that he can transform between, Blue Beetle is a versatile fighter, but each of his styles have critical weaknesses. In projectile form, Beetle dashes around, poking his opponents and acting slippery as all hell, but once cornered, he crumbles. His melee form offers empowered normal strings, but has weak options at range. Black Canary is almost exclusively a run-and-gun type character who utilizes her signature trait, the Canary Cry, to stun her opponent at any point on the screen, allowing her to close the gap and destroy her opponents. Most rushdown characters are about getting in and not letting go, but Canary almost wants to exploit a weakness, claw her opponent, and dash out, waiting for her next time to pounce.
Beyond the character designs and gameplay, INJUSTICE 2’s newest hook is its gear system. A more visually distinct version of the three-variation setup from MORTAL KOMBAT X, INJUSTICE 2 allows players to unlock gear which they can use to augment their character. Replacing the typical costumes that are prevalent in fighting games, these clothing items also modify character stats such as attack power or defense, thus allowing players to craft their own unique playstyle. Does your Atrocitus have twice the normal health, or hit twice as hard? You can now tailor your character for your playstyle. Beyond the stats, some gear also unlock unique special moves for a character. For example, a gear set might allow Batman to throw his Batarangs upward as an anti-air move to counteract a pesky Blue Beetle, or maybe you would rather equip a superior parry, which would allow you fend off the relentless attacks from a rushdown Black Canary. The options are seemingly endless and allow players to create their ideal fighter and playstyle.
I don’t wear hockey pads!
In the beta, I was able to accumulate more gear than usual (NetherRealm increased the gear drop rate) and was able to have some fun with color shaders, even if it never felt quite right to see Superman with metal battle armor. Regardless of how you might feel about this stat altering gear, NetherRealm has confirmed that there will be modes in the final game that will remove these buffs for sake of competitive integrity, so that’s a nice bonus.
Aside from the gameplay evolutions, INJUSTICE 2 sees marked improvements to the graphics and connectivity. I played the beta on Xbox One and visually, the game looks incredible. A bold leap forward for the series from the first game, and a substantial improvement to even MKX. Facial features can sometimes seem a bit off, but the bulk of the animations look fluid and powerful. The motion capture for dialogue looks great and I cannot wait to see these characters in action during the main single player campaign. With regards to the netcode, the real reason for the beta, I can say it’s a substantial improvement to the original game, which had horrendous lag during multiplayer matches. This felt about the same as MKX after it reworked its connectivity a year after its release, which is a good thing. Most of my matches felt smooth and only a few would hiccup or crumble due to lag. Most of the time, the game would recognize my inputs and at worst I would see a few frames of lag. Not too shabby for a beta.
Honestly, as a huge fan of the original game, I am incredibly excited for INJUSTICE 2 and the beta only got me more hyped for the final release. With characters like Swamp Thing, Poison Ivy, and Darkseid announced, I cannot wait to see how NetherRealm continues to introduce new and unique gameplay styles and how the gear system affects online competitive multiplayer. And even if they seem to difficult to master, I have Superman and Batman to fall back on. But beyond all of that, it’s just a lot of fun to play and I can’t wait to play more. I’m anxiously waiting for that May 16th release date.
Played on Xbox One, will also be available on PlayStation 4 and PC